During the past month, I’ve been spending a bunch of time in my head, wondering what my actual path in the SCA might be. A conversation with an old friend kicked off this particular bout of introspection. She is an apprentice, which means that she has chosen the path of deep study in the Arts & Sciences, with the hope and goal that someday the Peers in the Society will recognize that she has attained mastery of her chosen craft and recognize her with the title of “Master.” This is a great and worthy goal, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to study with a variety of men and women who have themselves traveled on this path.
And yet, as we talked, I realized that as much as I love learning and doing research and making stuff and exploring how people did stuff in the SCA period of history … this is not my path. (Maybe yet, maybe ever … ) Instead, through a slip of the tongue, I stumbled upon my own path in the SCA.
The Way of the Penguin
Knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Learning for the sake of learning. Finding the reason to try something new, to develop and teach a class, to redact a new recipe, to attempt a new knitting design … all for the intrinsic enjoyment within that task.
For me, there are two things that motivate me to work on an A&S project, whether it be fiber arts, Bardic arts, fencing, or my long-neglected leadership and persona reading projects.
The first is the enjoyment that I get from the activity in and of itself. There is a certain goodness that I find in figuring out how words and a melody come together, or reworking a medieval stocking pattern until it finally fits comfortably on my leg, or (finally) finishing a new tunic to fence in that isn’t 20 years old and falling apart. I credit my parents with instilling in me the ability to find my own validation in pursuit of developing a talent. In fact, I clearly remember my father, trying to get me to practice the piano (always a hard task for someone with perpetual squirrel brain), encouraging me by saying that, at some point, the act of playing and practicing would become enjoyable even if I wasn’t performing or getting it perfect. You know what? My old man was right. (There it is in black and white … 😀 )
The second thing that motivates me is when I am making something to give to someone. Most of my knitted objects and a good many of my songs are meant as gifts for others. I get a kick out of plotting a careful design, trying things out, putting something together and, finally, presenting it to the intended recipient. That moment of their reaction is honestly what I find to be the best thing I could get in return. I especially enjoy doing this for people who are either not expecting it … or are not members of Royalty or Peers, and thus not people who are in positions in the SCA where people make or do things for them. They are a way of giving someone a token that says: thank you for being a friend to me. Thank you for being a friend to Haus zum bellenden Hund.
So what, exactly, is the Way of the Penguin? For me, it is a Way that gives people a path to independent scholarship, to doing things because they find joy in them, to helping them decide how much of themselves they can give to this hobby, whether it be contributing to the SCA’s body of knowledge by doing research and experimental archaeology, or giving generously of their gifts of time and service outside of the Path to Peerage. It is a Way that says, everyone is valued for what they contribute to our organization, and if you find that the Path to Peerage is not for you, then come join us on the Way of the Penguin. (We have cookies … or oranges … or mead, depending on what Robert Callum has been cooking up in the Haus zum bellenden Hund kitchen.)
At first when I thought I about this, I wondered if I should go about making this a formal thing. Maybe we needed a badge? Or something formal? But, no. The Way of the Penguin is all about what you make of it. So if you would like to try your hand at embroidery, and decide to make a favor with a depiction of a penguin, go for it! If you would like to write a song about the strange birds that live in the South, that explorers have glimpsed during their voyages around the Cape, go for it! If you would like to try your hand at a penguin subtlety, go for it! If you never make anything penguin-themed, yet go your own Way in your pursuit of what interests you in the SCA, go for it!
(But Teresa, you can’t just make something up, this is the SCA! Why yes, I know. But the Way of the Penguin is also a little punk rock, so pull out that hurdy-gurdy, let’s throw on some tunes, and start making art, or smacking that pell, or volunteering to work Gate, or whatever makes us happy. I’ll see you at the next Event!)
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UPDATE: After publishing this and inviting comment on my Facebook page, I received some great comments. A friend pointed out that, as a point of fact, someone on the Peerage Path would ideally be on that path through an intrinsic motivation, not in the hopes of receiving reward. This rings true with the vast majority of Peers I have met. They are giving of themselves, their time, and their talents, no matter what color belt they wear, or if you have accepted their patronage. However, as another friend pointed out, being a Peer is a job, and not one that everyone is interested in interviewing for. And that latter perspective is the one I hoped to think about in this blog post. There is a great deal of visibility for the traditional paths; I would like to make present an alternative to those paths, just in case anyone is thinking along these similar lines.